Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Spiced, Glazed Pecans

I adore pie at the holidays but want an alternative on my sideboard this year.  I thought a moist, decadent cake would be just the ticket and this one completely fit the bill.  Delicate in flavor with a sublime texture, this scrumptious cake, paired with the citrus-y, tangy icing and crunchy pecans is a winner!  If you don’t have all the spices on hand, you could substitute one tablespoon pumpkin pie spice, with little flavor impact.  You could also omit the cranberries, nuts and coconut if you prefer, but they had great texture, sweetness and some interest to the moist cake.  This is a rich dish and needs no accompaniment, other than a good cup of coffee.  Enjoy!
For the Cake:

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp allspice
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin
1/3 cup dried cranberries or currants
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2/3 cup flaked coconut

For the Frosting:

½ stick butter, softened
1 (8 oz.) block of reduced fat cream cheese
Zest of one orange
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp cream
1 Tbsp fresh orange juice
3 cups confectioners sugar

For the Glazed Pecans:

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp salt
dash cayenne pepper
1 tsp butter
2 cups pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray two 8” baking pans with cooking spray and dust with some flour.  Line the bottom of both pans with parchment, cut to size, and then spray again.  Set aside.  In a mixer, blend the oil and both sugars. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and then add the pumpkin, mixing well.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and all the spices.  Add into the wet mixture, beating until smooth.  Add the cranberries, nuts and coconut and stir well.  Pour batter evenly into both pans and bake for 35 minutes.  Remove form oven and cook for 15 minutes before removing cakes from the pans.

Next, make the candied pecans. Start by changing the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment and use the teaspoon of butter to grease the parchment.   In a small saucepan, mix the water, sugar, salt and spices over medium heat and cook until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is simmering.  Add the pecans and cook until candied, about 2 minutes.  Spread out evenly on the prepared baking sheet, using a spatula to separate the nuts.  Bake for about 10 minutes and allow the nuts to cool completely on the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Set aside.

Finally, make the frosting by beating the butter and cream cheese together.  Add the orange zest, juice and vanilla and mix well.  Beat in the sugar and add the cream as needed until you achieve your desired texture. 

Once the cake has thoroughly cooled, place one layer on a cake server and use half of the frosting to completely cover, leaving the sides unfrosted.  Gently lay the other cake layer atop this and ice with the rest of the frosting, again leaving the sides unfrosted.  Lay the pecans all around the top of the cake in concentric circles.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fennel and Garlic-Crusted Pork with Roasted Autumn Vegetables

I first published this recipe on Blogcritics at

The glorious fall here in Virginia gets me craving roasted root vegetables, succulent pork and almost anything with apples.  There’s just something about the cool air and gently falling, brilliantly colored leaves that makes me think of comfort food.  I found a perfect pork loin roast at the market and that inspired me to get started.  I crusted the roast in a mix of fennel seeds, sea salt, peppercorns, garlic and olive oil, and then roasted the pork with a colorful and vitamin-rich array of root vegetables – parsnips, celery root, onions, butternut squash and sweet potatoes.  You could really use whatever winter veggies you had on hand that appealed to you.  I added some apples and thyme for flavor and then dressed the whole dish with some orange juice and zest just before serving.  It was a meal worthy of company for sure, even though it was very budget-conscious, healthy, and came together in a snap.   If you really wanted to make this dish special, brine the pork in a mix of water, sea salt, fennel and apple cider for a day and then remove it from the brine and allow it to dry for a day prior to preparing it. I wasn‘t thinking that far ahead, but I did crust the roast and allow it to sit for 24 hours before cooking so that the favors would fully absorb, but you could skip that step too if you were in a rush.  We paired it simply with a bottle of Dr. Loosen’s Austrian Riesling and an escarole, date, goat cheese and walnut salad.  It would also be great with sautéed winter greens.  The perfect finish to this meal was a gingerbread cupcake with citrus cream cheese icing.  Enjoy!  

3 lb. boneless pork roast  (may adjust size to suit)
2 Tbsp fennel seeds
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp coarse sea salt
1 Tbsp whole peppercorns
4 cloves of garlic, minced
8-10 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems
2 sweet potatoes, cut into 4-6 pieces (skins on)
1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into chunks
½ butternut squash, seeded, peeled and cubed into 2” pieces
2 parsnips or carrots, peeled and cut into 6-8 pieces
½ celery root or turnip, peeled and cut into wedges
2 apples, cored and cut into wedges (skins on)
¼ cup apple cider
1 orange

Rinse the pork and pat dry.  Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, mix and grind the fennel seeds, 1 Tbsp salt, and ½ Tbsp peppercorns.  Rub about ¼ cup of the olive oil over the pork and coat with the chopped garlic, then crust with the spice mixture and set aside.  If your pork roast is quite large, cut the veggies larger, and make them bite size if you’re using a small pork loin.  Place all the cut veggies and the apples in a 13x9 baking dish and toss with the remaining ¼ cup of the olive oil, the thyme, 1 tbsp of the salt and 1/2 tbsp of the pepper.  Lay the pork atop the root veggie mixture and pour the apple cider over the whole dish.  Roast in a 425 degree oven until the veggies are fork-tender and the pork registers at 138 degrees on a meat thermometer, about 15 minutes per pound.  If the roast is cooking faster than the veggies, remove the heat and allow it to rest while you finish the vegetables in the oven.  Either way, allow the meat to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.  Remove the pork and place on a large serving dish.  Zest the orange directly over the roasted vegetables and then cut in half and squeeze the juice over the dish.  Toss the vegetables and season as desired with additional salt and pepper.  Place the vegetables around the pork on a platter and pour the pan sauce over both just before serving. Garnish with some whole thyme sprigs or fennel fronds if you wish.